01 April 2012
The other day I baked a batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. The batter seemed a little bit on the stiff side so I added just a tad of vegetable oil. I mixed it in and so it had the consistency that I wanted. I put the dough on the baking sheet and popped it into my 375 degree oven and baked for 10 minutes.
I removed the cooking sheet from the oven because the cookies looked done. I slide my 99¢ Ikea spatula under a test cookie and gently set it on the cooling rack. But when I set it on the rack, the cookie imploded and gooey batter dripped from the center of the cookie, through the rack, and onto the kitchen counter.
The cookies were half-baked. They needed more time in the oven. So I quickly slide the tray back into the oven for three more minutes.
I pulled the cookies from the oven for the second time -- slide my spatula under one and set it on the cooling rack -- prepared for the worst.
Before I removed the rest of the cookies from the sheet I broke that test cookie open to see if it was fully baked. It was -- stiff and solid -- so I had to eat it because nobody wants a broken cookie on the cooling rack. And it was good.
The point of the story? Half-baked cookies don’t make the cut. Half-baked cookies are not suitable for serving. I mean, have you ever been served a half-baked cookie at a cookie party? Beautiful on the outside but when you take a bite -- you end up with a mouthful of gooey not-so-tasty dough. It’s not a pleasant experience -- especially when you consider how wonderful the cookie looked on the outside.
In our text this morning, Colossians 2:16-23, the apostle Paul is warning the Christians about people who are trying to serve up half-baked cookies to the church. Vs. 16 --
“So don’t let anyone judge you about eating or drinking or about a festival, a new moon observance, or sabbaths. These religious practices are only a shadow of what was coming—the body that cast the shadow is Christ.” (CEB)There was a lot of shadowy thinking going on in the first century. Even Palm Sunday is a shadow event. From the overall context it is evident that the people were proclaiming Jesus to be the king -- but their understanding of him and his kingdom were shadows of the reality. Half-baked.
A shadow is cast by the real thing -- but it’s only the form without the detail. And sometimes the shadow can get pretty distorted. There is no heart in a shadow. It’s very partial information that only vaguely reflects the real thing. On the outside it looks inviting but on the inside it is incomplete -- dare we say, half-baked.
And for the apostle Paul the Old Testament law -- as wonderful and helpful as it was -- was half-baked -- not yet the final cookie. It was a fuzzy shadow of the actual living word of God -- Christ Jesus -- God in the flesh -- the perfect fully baked cookie.
This is very much in line with what we read in Hebrews 10. Vs. 1 --
“The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves.” (NLT)And it appears that there were some people in Colossae that were trying to reintroduce some version of the old Jewish legal system -- Moses II -- with festivals, lunar observances, sabbath days -- and apparently something that had to do with honoring angels, according to verse 18.
And it’s not that religious festivals, new moon observances, and special sabbath days are bad in and of themselves. To the contrary! Such practices prescribed for the Jewish people in the Old Testament were helpful ingredients in the cookie dough, so to speak.
But if the cookies are overly gooey when you pull them out of the oven -- the cookies are still half baked -- and not edible -- at least for ordinary people.
The problem wasn’t with the ingredients per se but that these people had infiltrated the ranks of the church and were vocally pushing the idea that everyone needs to be eating gloppy half-baked doughy cookies -- keeping all the festival and sabbath rules -- practicing a rule-based spirituality that was appropriate for the time when the cookies were in the oven -- but NOT the serving plate.
And Paul is saying -- “Hey, look we already served you fully baked, Christ-centered grace-chipped cookies. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to be eating half-baked cookie dough.”
“If for some reason you want to eat gloppy cookies -- so be it. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t do that -- but don’t let anyone tell you that you HAVE TO BE maintaining a regiment with all of these religious rules and practices. If you do -- you’re allowing them to be grace robbers.”
Vs. 18 --
“Don’t let anyone who wants to practice harsh self-denial and worship angels rob you of the prize. (Or the word translated here as “prize” is more literally in the Greek, the phrase -- “fully-baked grace-chip cookie!”) They go into detail about what they have seen in visions and have become unjustifiably arrogant by their selfish way of thinking...” (CEB)That is, they go into detail about how they’ve encountered angels and say they’ve had visions and revelations to justify what they’re saying. But the reality is that they’ve become arrogant jerks -- proud of themselves.
And, vs. 19 --
“They don’t stay connected to the head. (That is, Christ) The head nourishes and supports the whole body through the joints and ligaments, so the body grows with a growth that is from God.” (CEB)That is, these people are trying to grow the church by enforcing rules and legalism. But, Paul says, this is so contrary to the way that God grows the church -- which is through nourishment and connection.
There are still a lot of people whose primary experience of “religion” involves being force fed half-baked bad-tasting cookies. I meet them all the time. They’ve had it up to here with rule-based religion but have never really experienced a grace-based relationship with God. The rules have left a bad taste in their mouths so they don’t go there anymore.
“Real Christians don’t smoke, drink whiskey, consume caffeine, or eat meat -- especially on Fridays. They have to go to every church meeting there is.”
Rules -- rules which actually may have some kernel of truth at the core -- but which have been so fulfilled in Christ -- so baked to perfection in him -- that they are basically moot now -- as rules go. Yes, Christ may lead you to dump the whisky and the smokes -- but he’ll do it through your connection with him -- not some rules out of the Christian rulebook.
And since we don’t have such a rulebook no one here is maintaining a spirituality score for you. But I realize that the whole rule thing is so ingrained that many people have a hard time believing that we’re not sitting around judging them.
Of course, some people have resisted and said that they’re no longer going to eat any cookies.
Yet others have become so accustomed to the half-baked gooey dough that they think that’s what cookies are supposed to taste like. They’ve acquired a taste for rules. And they believe in their heart of hearts that everyone MUST eat half-baked gooey cookies with them -- and that is what real cookies are supposed to taste like.
And whether by intention or just through mistaken practice they begin to think and believe, and live as though that it’s all about rules.
Now don’t get me wrong. Shadows do have some semblance of the reality. Some of these might be wise rules and you might want to adopt certain practices for your own spiritual and physical well-being.
But the gooeyness comes when we make these practices the sum total of what it means to be a Christian -- and communicate to everyone else that being a REAL Christian is a matter of keeping the rules on the list.
Vs. 20 --
“If you died with Christ to the way the world thinks and acts, why do you submit to rules and regulations as though you were living in the world? 21 ‘Don’t handle!’ ‘Don’t taste!’ ‘Don’t touch!’ 22 All these things cease to exist when they are used. Such rules are human commandments and teachings. 23 They look like they are wise with this self-made religion and their self-denial by the harsh treatment of the body, but they are no help against indulging in selfish immoral behavior.” (CEB)Now, having said all this, I think it is helpful to point out that Paul is not against practices and disciplines per se. He is not against traditions. He IS against setting these things up as rules which feed the egos of some and bind others.
There is a concept in the Lutheran tradition called adiaphora. Well, it’s actually more or less borrowed from ancient Stoic philosophy.
And this is another word that you need to know. (I never heard it until seminary but I wish that someone had taught me this word earlier.) Adiaphora is the kind of word that you can casually let slip out when you’re sitting in the boat drinking a few beers with your friends. And they will be truly impressed.
Adiaphora essentially means, in areas that are neither commanded nor forbidden in scripture there is flexibility. Not everyone has to do everything in exactly the same way.
In practice adiaphora comes down to helpfulness. If it’s helpful and meaningful -- use it. If it is unhelpful and a distraction from important matters -- don’t do it.
The 17th century German theologian Rupert Meldinius put it this way -- “Unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and in all things love.”
When we were on Guam we were a part of the Lutheran Church of Guam. This church had two services -- one very traditional with lots of liturgy and sung responses -- many people would respectfully bow as they approached the altar -- not fully my cup of tea. I did love the wonderful organ music, though.
The first time I filled-in to lead worship in the traditional service I had to learn how to sing parts of the liturgy. And being gracious people, they cut me A LOT of slack. I wore my white alb and a stole because those things were meaningful to them. And if I didn’t do such it would distract from the gospel message in that church and island culture.
The second service, though, was “contemporary” -- piano, guitars, a drum, I played ukulele, flip flops, no vestments, and a pretty basic liturgical structure -- just enough to build depth to the worship -- yet simple enough that most anyone coming in off the street could follow and enter in if they really wanted to. Very similar to what we do -- and what most Evangelical Covenant churches do.
But the cool thing about it all at LCG is that no one seemed to think that their approach was the only real way to be the church. The people who worshipped in the contemporary service worked side by side with those who worshipped in the traditional service -- and even advocated for them. They were not at all competing with each other but they looked out for each other.
They often filled in to help each other out. Christ and his mission was the focal point -- not a bunch of rules or the rich traditions -- so people got along and accommodated each other. It was great -- and I’d do it again -- even if they had a style of worship which wasn’t my cup of tea.
You see, there is no rule that we all have to worship in exactly the same way -- keep the same liturgical calendar (as helpful as that is at times) or read from the same Bible translation. There is no rule that you can’t do old or new or both. As long as Christ and his grace is the center of it all we can have lots and lots of flexibility in our practices. We aren’t making up a bunch of absolute rules to codify our practices.
That’s the idea of adiaphora. And that’s what fully baked grace-chipped cookies look like.
Okay, there is a quiz printed up on the message guide this morning. I want you to mark the correct answer as you see it and to be ready to defend your answer.
If I had to identify the “key point” in this message I think it would be:
___ Don’t let anyone mess with your cookies.
___ Religious rules served a good purpose during the baking process but now that the gospel is fully baked they are not essential to our relationship with God and should not be made into an obligation.
___ Since we rely on God’s grace rather than religious rules we can do anything we want because God doesn’t care.
___ Real churches have organs and serve cookies.
___ The crowds along the parade route during the Triumphal Entry didn’t understand what they were saying and doing.